Video – St. Maximilian, a Bad Theologian? – KBGF 7

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Is St. Maximilian Kolbe a real theologian, or just a zealous and holy priest, but with a mistaken and even dangerous theology? Dr. J. Isaac Goff start to guide us through Chapter 2 of The Theologian of Auschwitz by Father Peter Damian Fehlner.

In 1954, the Polish theologian Fr. George Domanski broached the idea that St. Maximilian was an important theologian for the future of the Church, and was quickly criticized. Thirty years later, at a conference on St. Maximilian’s Mariology, the two positions were stronger and more developed, for some, St. Maximilian is a great theological authority, for others, a holy man, quite inspirational, but no theological authority either in his time or ours.

In this chapter, we look deeper, and see different ideas of what theology is and how it is done. From an approach that emphasizes the intellectual and scientific nature of theology, we have Thomistic and contemporary critical theology. In a Thomistic approach there is a strong focus on deduction from principles given by revelation as a subordinate science that is a real science (STh., I q.1 a.2 resp.). There is then the approach of contemporary theology with its emphasis on careful historical-critical analysis of sources and the study of interpretation and method in an academic environment with long bibliographies and fat footnotes. Both these look at St. Maximilian as “a-critical, radically anti-intellectual, and therefore prone to foster ‘unsound’ spirituality” (p 27).

But the problem at heart is that St. Maximilian is a Franciscan theologian, but the Franciscan approach to theology is almost forgotten by many. Intellectual, academic work is only one part of life, and needs to be integrated into a whole life well-lived. Franciscan theology realizes this, and says the purpose of theology is not to know, but to love and to live in love. The will and the mind are deeply connected and are sanctified together or not at all. Theological study helps this process along when joined to prayer and service, and St Maximilian excelled in all three of these. As Fr. Peter tells us:

“Critics of Kolbe subordinate the spiritual to the exigencies of the scientific, conceived as the only legitimate form of critical discernment. Kolbe, like Scotus, prioritizes charity (and so the decuit over debet in our theology) and further insists on the mediation of the Immaculate Mediatrix—as it were, the Magistra theologorum—as indispensable to the successful cultivation of theology” (p 35).

Is St. Maximilian a real theologian? Eminently so, but you must understand the Bonaventurian concept of theology as he did.

“The theological character of Kolbe’s work for the cause of our Lady of the Immaculate Conception can be explained only with difficulty on the basis of theology as this is commonly understood in Thomistic [or Kantian] circles. But in the Bonaventurian-Scotistic notion of academic theology, that theological character is ‘obvious’ in a very true sense” (p 22).

Ave Maria!

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